BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Professor Edward W. Said, why the title "Reflections on Exile," this book on essays?
Professor EDWARD W. SAID (Author, "Reflections on Exile"): Well, first of all, it's the title of one of the essays in
there, which I wrote in 1984 and which seemed to me to capture, for my
purposes at any rate, the condition of being somebody away from the
place that he was born and belonged to, which was my condition. And I
tried to generalize out from that to a more m--more widespread, modern
condition of exile, of uprootedness, of migration, of immigration, of
expatriation and so on.
LAMB: Where are you the happiest today?
Prof. SAID: I think probably on a plane. I--yeah. I--I mean, I
live in New York. I don't think I could live anywhere else. And I
find New York's anonymity and sort of volatility terrifically
energizing. But I, myself, live a very quiet and quite sedentary
life. I'm a creature of the university. I've been at Columbia since
the early '60s, and I live on the campus; part of the sort of campus
ghetto. And my trips downtown are few and far between, Columbia being
uptown. So I like that. You know, my kids grew up there. And I--I
find New York, strangely, a place of rest from lots of migration and
travel for myself. I travel a lot.
LAMB: What's Columbia like for you?
Prof. SAID: Oh, it's a fantastic place. I mean, I--I've never been
happier, I think, anywhere. I--I grew up, as you know, in schools and
universities that have stayed there. And Columbia presents a
fantastically challenging group of students, and that's the most
important thing. As I say, an e--unending contact with young people,
which is why I went into teaching in the first place. Second, it's a
great university and has a wonderful faculty, which has been
extraordinarily good to me. And third, it has a marvelous library and
great facilities concentrated in one place. It--it's an urban
university, not like the Ivy League school--I mean, it is an Ivy
League school, but it's not like the ones I went to, which are
basically, you know, resident places. And in that respect, it's the
world for me. And I--I couldn't be happier.
LAMB: Someplace I read, in one of your essays, that--or one of your
interviews, that there's a--a button in your home that would bring the
Prof. SAID: Yeah. Well, the--it--it--in an apartment I used to live
in, before I moved to the last one--I've moved--I've lived in three
apartments, and the middle one, during the '80s, the second half of
the '80s, I was subject to a lot of death threats and attempts, and my
office at Columbia was ransacked and my papers burned o--on one
occasion. And so the officers of the 26th Precinct and the security
services at the university thought it better, because of these
threats, to have a kind of panic button in my apartment, which if you
re--pressed it, rang in the 26th Precinct, and a couple of minutes
later, some officers would show up.
We never had to use it. It was only used once, as it turned out, by a
house guest, who thought it was, you know, a--a light switch; pressed
it, and there were these six officers there confronting the poor
woman, who was scared out of her wits.
LAMB: Why did people want to harm you?
Prof. SAID: Well, because of my positions on--on Palestine. I--I
mean, I've been a kind of outspoken activist on behalf of Palestinian
rights since the '67 War. And then during the '70s, I--you know,
because of my writing, and I would appear on television, I became
quite recognizable. And--and so I--you know, there was a lot of--was
a lot of strong feeling. And I've been, you know, persistent in my
calls for Palestinian--justice for Palestinians, the rights of
Palestinians who were dispossessed in 1948. And this is in New
York--you know, and--and because I take no particular precautions, my
life is, you know, quite open. I just go to the university, give
talks and so on. There have been attempts made by the extremists, who
have tried to--to do away with me.
LAMB: You say, though, that you've never taught the Middle East in
Prof. SAID: Never. No, no. The only thing I've ever taught is
literature, actually. I--I've taught, basically, the literature in
which I was trained, in which I love, mainly English and some
American, but French, German, Italian, comparative literature. And
I've never, never believed in using the classroom to deal with
political issues in which I'm engaged. So my--my work is very
historical, and I've tried to expose the students to as rigorous a
historical and aesthetic approach to literature rather than a--than a
LAMB: Do you ever have students try to get you to talk about the
politics in the class?
Prof. SAID: Well, not only get to--try to talk about them, but in
some cases--I remember during the '60s, my class was--I forget the
word they used in those days--interrupted or--they tried to take it
over. It was during one of the Vietnam--anti-Vietnam protests, in
which I was--which I played a role. But they inter--intervened in the
class, I think, about six students. And my own students, who knew my
position, actually got them--pushed them out so the class could
continue, because I said I wasn't going to continue. So that was
really the only time.
And then, I think, on one occasion--it may have been during the Gulf
War--students put up their hands and asked me questions about what was
taking place. And I said I--I'd be happy to discuss it, but not in a
class on Irish literature. It didn't seem appropriate.
LAMB: So if you're in your apartment and you've got free time and you
want to pick up somebody you enjoy reading, what book would you first
Prof. SAID: It's hard to know what one I'd--the newest one. I mean,
I'm a--I'm a--I'm a shameless--How shall I put it?--a shameless
purveyor of novelties. I like to read the latest book. I--I tend to
read everything from fiction to biography to non-fiction to books
about Hollywood to his--I--history is something that tremendously
interests me. And--but I usually have very little free time. So what
I look for now, to tell you the truth, is escape, because the pressure
on me--I mean, I'm not well. My days are shorter. My energy is
considerably less. So my--my favorite reading i--is something that
will take me away from all the pressures of the world. And now I
happen to be reading Sherlock Holmes for the 20th time.
LAMB: When did you first know you were sick?
Prof. SAID: Almost exactly 10 years ago, in 1991. I--I discovered
it entirely by accident. It was a routine exam, and the blood test
showed that I had leukemia.
LAMB: What was your reaction?
Prof. SAID: Well, you know, when you get a--a verdict like that, the
reaction is usually denial, or it's a mistake or, well, it's not that
bad. I was in London at the time, and my wife--I'd rang her up to
find out the results of some cholesterol thing I was worried about.
And it took me, I think, about a week. And then terror, you know,
because you get--y--you get shunted i--you know, from place to place
by various doctors. M--I mean, my own internist sent me to a
hematologist, who then told me he wasn't capable of treating me, so to
find another doctor. So the first two or three months with tests
going on all the time and different doctors, etc., I was really quite
And then after a while, if you're lucky enough, as I was, to get a
really good doctor whom you like, which I did about a year later, in
'92, and he's--I mean, he's still my doctor--you--you learn how to--I
mean, because it's--in--in my case, I have a very persistent and nasty
kind of leukemia. It's chronic, which means that basically there's no
cure for it. So it's a question of yo--your doctor coming up with
therapies to keep it at bay, to just--so you learn to do the same
thing with your head. I mean, if you keep it in the front of your
head, then you can't do anything.
And I would say it took me about nine months to just--you know, it was
like the center of my attention--was to just push it aside like that.
I mean, it--it's always there, and there's always some problem.
And--and the longer you go, the more you know it's going to be
complicated because you get infections and things of that sort.
LAMB: How has it changed your thinking about life?
Prof. SAID: Well, it makes me value life a great deal more. I mean,
I--I now truly savor experiences as much as I can. I do what I want
to do and what I really love to do. That includes music. It includes
travel. It includes being with friends. But I'm also--I feel more
driven about things, you know, that I feel obligate me; teaching is
very important, writing, and, you know, issues of justice and--and
oppression around the world, which--you know, which g--grip my
LAMB: Have you noticed others changing the way they deal with you?
Prof. SAID: Yeah. I--you know, one of the strangest things I've
found, and I've found it very difficult to deal with, was very close
friends of mine, not many but some, with whom I used to be in regular
contact, suddenly stopped calling me. I mean, it was just too hard
for them to deal with somebody who they thought was, you know, in
the--in the throes of a--of a terminal disease. So I--I think that's
the main thing, and then, of course, the--the ironic or s--sort of
funny--people who think you're going to die and so you have colleagues
who say, `I'd like his office when he dies,' kind of thing. Yeah,
it's very weird.
And, you know, there are numerous ceremonies that people feel they
have to go through. It's all--it's all fantastically
well-intentioned. But, you know, w--I--I had--in the middle and late
'90s, I had some very bad years when I was really sick for most of the
time. And so, you know, there were--there were several conferences
held in my honor. And I--you know, you're treated with a kind of--I
don't know what the exact word is, but al--almost in a--in a--in a
kind of elegiac way, you know, as somebody on the way out.
LAMB: But what you see today--I mean, sitting right in front of me,
you look healthy and...
Prof. SAID: Yeah. Well, thank you. I mean, I was in the hospital
yesterday. I mean, I spend a lot of time going to...
LAMB: What is--what--what--what's the main treatment for this?
Prof. SAID: Well, there--it's hard to tell because I've exhausted
all the main ones. And my doctor, who's, I think, the leading figure
in--in leukemia, he's an Indian doctor called Kanti Rai. He's one of
the great figures, I think. He's a very interesting man. We've
become very good friends. He's--well, he's on the cutting edge. He's
a great clinician and a--and a researcher. So I'm now in basically
experimental treatments because all the conventional ones no longer
work. So he--I'm hoping he'll come up with something, you know. I--I
have a large tumorous growth in my stomach, which--for which he found
earlier in the year an experimental treatment. It was--it was quite
ghastly, but I survived it. And--and--and the tumor shrunk, but it's
coming--I mean, it's coming back. It's still there. So, you know,
you have those kinds of considerations; plus, the fact that, you know,
any little thing--you know, a scratch can turn into a major infection.
So you have to be careful. I'm, a lot of the time, on antibiotics
and--and I have periodical im--immunization treatments.
LAMB: You were how old when this happened?
Prof. SAID: I was f--56, I think. Yeah, 56.
LAMB: So that makes you how old today?
Prof. SAID: Oh, I'm 65. I will be 66 later in the year.
LAMB: And when it happened, did you think you were going to live 10
Prof. SAID: No. No. In fact, I--I--well, I didn't even--well, to
tell you the truth, I don't know. I do--I do--I didn't think much
about it. You know, you--because you--in a funny sort of way,
your--your per--per--your horizons and perspectives narrow. You don't
think in terms of all the things I want to do, the way you normally
do. But you think in terms of more or less immediate things that you
want to do and you don't think in terms of surviving for X number of
years. I--I just try not to think in those terms.
LAMB: So when--let's say 25 years from now when people look back on
Prof. SAID: Oh, no.
LAMB: ...what do you want them to say about you?
Prof. SAID: Well--well, that I--I tried to tell the truth. I--it's
very important. That I was a good teacher, decent writer. And--and a
good friend. And especially for my family, you know, g--good father,
husband, so on.
LAMB: Th--there's a--you--you brought along--we have a--actually a
galley proof of n--a new book coming out in August of interviews. And
I want to show you the photograph. You--you just received this.
Where did this photograph come from?
Prof. SAID: Well, this is a photograph taken a couple--let's see, it
must have been in March, by Annie Leibovitz. It's a--it's very
flattering. And it's going to be the cover of this next book, a
collection of interviews, basically.
LAMB: W--and what is it like that somebody wants to publish a
collection of interviews with you that go back--What?--15, 20 years?
Prof. SAID: No, more than that. They go back at least 25 years.
The first one in the book is 1976. Well, it's very flattering. It
was--the idea was that of a colleague of mine who--who--who--who is
a--you know, also Indian, as it turns out, who is a former student of
mine. And sh--she had the idea originally to do a series of
interviews into a book. And I just said I didn't have time to do
that, you know, but there were all these interviews I'd done. I do a
lot of them. Over the--I've done--I've done--I've done hundreds,
really, over the years. Some of them were interesting. And so she
took the time--Garwi Vishwinatan, her name is--she took the time to
read through and pick out about 40 of them or something. And we put
them together in a book. I mean, basically, you know, I--I was
embarrassed a bit, you know.
LAMB: Now you do a lot of this. You sit for interviews a lot.
Prof. SAID: Yeah.
LAMB: Do you remember them? And if you do, what's one that you
remember, and why?
Prof. SAID: Well, I remember--I'm sure I'll remember this one. But
I remember one in particular in--and, actually, my short-term memory
is really quite bad, so I tend not to remember them. But the one I do
remember, in particular, recent, was about a year ago, the summer of
19--of 2000. The leading Israeli daily, which is called Ha'aretz,
h--had been in touch with me through one of their leading sort of
profile and interview writers. And he came over in August and we
spent three days talking, basically. And then he produced this long
interview, which is in this book, yeah.
LAMB: It's the last one, yeah.
Prof. SAID: It's the last interview right in the book. And I
remember it because it was quite an amazing thing. In the--in the
first instance, I don't think an interview like that, about the
Palestinian problem and the history of Palestine and my views on
Palestine, could have been published in an American journal or
newspaper, simply because it's too frank, you know. Here--here's an
Israeli, who--who's right on the line, who, in fact, lives in the same
area where I was born, in Jerusalem--in West Jerusalem. And so there
was that. And he asked all the questions about return and what
happened in 1948 and all that sort of thing.
But much more important is it wasn't adversarial. I mean, it was--it
was a conversation, such as this, you know, a man asking me questions
with--with great politeness. They were very searching questions.
And, you know, he was there to listen to me, not to give me a lecture
on what I should be thinking and what I shouldn't be saying and all
this sort of thing. And--and, third, the most important thing, I
think, of all was that it was, you know, published by a leading
Israeli journal. I mean, it was, you know, Ha'aretz, which is the--is
The New York Times of Israel, basically. But--and, you know, they
published it pretty much as--as we did it. I mean, he edited,
obviously, it was much too long. But it was very well-edited and it
was eminent--eminently fair.
LAMB: What was the fallout from it in--in Israel?
Prof. SAID: Oh, well, I don't really know because I--I don't read
Hebrew. But, you know, there was a lot of discussion of it. And it
was published, I think, just a few days before the Intifadah began on
the 28th of September. I think it was published in September. So
it--it--it--it came at a--at a rather sort of opportune time, in a
LAMB: I want to go back because you say that--in the deck of this
interview leading up to it that, as you just said, `This was not the
first interview I had had with Israel's leading daily, but it was
certainly the largest and the best-prepared. Ari Shavit spent three
days talking with me in early August 2000 in New York'--that's not
very long ago.
Prof. SAID: No.
LAMB: `What is striking about such an interview is that it could and,
of course, did appear in Israel, but certainly not in the United
States.' Take a little time and tell us now what you could not say in
an American newspaper, in your opinion, about the situation in Israel
Prof. SAID: Well, I--I--what I did, basically, was to trace current
events in the Middle East, I mean, certainly, as regard to Palestine
and the Palestinians and Israel and the Israelis, back to the events
of 1948, which are simply forgotten about. And I talk about the peace
process, which I do in a very critical way, and--and--and show how the
peace process--and I think I was prophetic about this; I think he
mentions it--because almost from the very beginning, I was critical of
them as not really dealing with the fundamental question, which is
Palestinian self-determination and in a kind of cosmetic way trying to
keep Israel basically in charge of the territories. So there was
that. Third, there was the--the whole question of what had happened
to the Palestinian. I mean, I--I--I talked about Palestinian
suffering, which is central to the--to the--you know, as--as suffering
ironically at the hands of a people that have themselves suffered so
much, the Jews. I mean, these are tough questions.
And he listened, and he may not have agreed with me--I'm sure he
didn't--but at least he thought it was worth listening to. And that
is simply not the case in--in journalism in this country. You cannot,
in a sustained way, do this.
Prof. SAID: Well, I think the prevailing discourse is--is very, very
closed. It's dominated by the Zionist point of view, which is, I
think, much more extreme, much more closed-minded, I think, than the
Israeli equivalent. And--and what's ironic about it, too, is that
these are people who live in America, who--who are entitled to go to
Israel--I'm talking about American Jews who are supporters of
Israel--but prefer to stay in--in America and sort of fight to the
last Israeli. It's--it's an act of supremely bad faith. And they're
cl--absolutely closed, and I would think even narcissistically closed,
to the experiences of other people; namely, the Palestinians.
I mean, I--there's no way that you could think of the history of
Israel without thinking of what happened to the Palestinians. And
that simply isn't done in this country where s--you know,
self-affirmation and--and sort of Zion--the Zionist myth of liberation
and independence completely ignores the narrative of--of the
LAMB: Explain this. Several weeks ago, Jackie Mason, who's a
comedian, and a fella named Felder wrote a column in The Washington
Times in which they accused The New York Times of being anti-Israel.
Prof. SAID: Well, The New York Times has one or two columnists
occasionally, you know, Th--Thomas Friedman being one and Anthony
Lewis, who writes only once a week now, who--who express criticism of
Israelis--of Israel's policies on the West Bank and Gaza. But they're
by no means anti-Israel in the sense that they think that--that the
establishment of Israel was, for the Palestinians, a catastrophe,
which I think it was. And I think that's about it. But historically,
what's interesting is that The New York Times was not--during the
'40s, at the time of Israel's establishment, was actually
anti-Zionist. It's true it was not for a Jewish state in Palestine,
for whatever reasons. I--you know, that's irrelevant.
But that history has--has continued, even though during the editorship
of people like Abe Rosenthal, who is a right-wing Zionist, basically,
the paper an--and its pol--editorial policies have remained staunchly
pro-Israel. I mean, critical of what Israel does, like it would be
critical of the United States. Israel is not a sacred state, by any
means, and, I mean, the idea that it shouldn't be criticized is
But--but, for example--I'll--I'll show you what I'm trying to say.
Since the Intifadah began on September the 29th of 19--of 2000, you
know, there have been many, many columns written, except for one,
which was written by a Palestinian who now lives in Jordan and is very
much pro-peace process, and a Palestinian who is an American professor
at the University of Chicago, there have been no representations of
the Palestinian point of view in The New York Times op-ed page. I
used to write for them a lot in the--in the '70s, in the '80s, and I
think even in the '90s. They got in touch with me once, and I'd just
written something for The Nation. I sent it to them and I never heard
from them again. I--I--that's what I'm trying to say.
LAMB: D--define some things, some simple things--not simple things,
but they're simple questions.
Prof. SAID: Yeah.
LAMB: What is a Zionist?
Prof. SAID: Zionists are somebody who believes in the establishment
of a Jewish homeland, and I would say in Palestine; although
originally, it was just the idea of a Jewish homeland. It's a--it's a
f--it's a--it's an idea that has come and gone over the years and...
LAMB: When did it start?
Prof. SAID: Well, it's difficult to tell because the Jews were an
exiled people, you know, back in the first century. But as a
political movement in the modern paradigm, I'd say it began towards
the end of the 19th century as an organized political movement, the
end of the 19th century.
LAMB: And what's Zion?
Prof. SAID: Zion is, of course, Israel and the--and they want to
establish a new--a new--I mean, a continuation of the--of the temple
that was destroyed by the Romans.
LAMB: What's Palestine?
Prof. SAID: Palestine is a historical area which is, I guess, what
today Israel would be--Right?--including the West Bank and Gaza. And
it has a long history, but it's not a history exclusively associated
only with Jews. I mean, it's an area--has a history of 10,000 years.
It's been associated with Judaism--with all the monotheistic
religions, Christianity and Judai--and Islam as well. But literally
dozens, if not hundreds, of civilizations have come and gone. So
Palestine includes all those histories, Arabs, Ottomans, Byzantines,
Greeks, Romans, Parathions, Philistines, Moabite, Jebuzite--I mean,
people you've never heard of have had a stake in Palestine.
So for us, Palestine is that long history, including that of the Jews,
you know, but that's just part of it. And 20th century Palestine is
basically an Arab land where the preponderance of the inhabitants
were, in fact, Palestinian Arabs, until 1948 when two-thirds of them
were driven out.
LAMB: And you were born in what year?
Prof. SAID: I was born in--November 1st, 1935.
Prof. SAID: In Jerusalem.
LAMB: Why is that so controversial, your birth in that city on...
Prof. SAID: Well, I don't think the birth is controversial. It--I
mean, you know...
LAMB: The fact that you...
Prof. SAID: No, no. It's not--that isn't even--that's never been an
issue. I mean, I have--I have a birth certificate and it's clear that
I was born there. No, the question is whether--I mean, was raised by
some--my opinion--nut who seemed to have nothing better to do than to
spend three years researching my early life, which was a fairly
peripatetic life. My father was a businessman from Jerusalem who
emigrated to the United States in 1911 and then went back to Palestine
in 1920 after serving in World War I. And he went into business with
his family and established a business in Palestine and then expanded
the business into Egypt in--in the late '20s. And so he spent a good
bit of his life in Egypt, but also in Palestine, back and forth. And
I was born in one of these trajectories.
And, you know, most of my early life was spent in--in Cairo, but it
was also spent in Palestine, where all of my family was. I mean, all
my extended family on both sides, my mother's family and father's
family. And also Lebanon, since we had a summer place in Lebanon. My
father was a very well-off, very successful businessman. And what
this character was trying to show was that I was not as Palestinian as
I claimed to be and that I wasn't a refugee in any sense of the word.
I had become, through my writings and appearances on television and so
on and so forth--he s--he claimed that I had become a kind of symbol
of Palestinian refugeehood. I mean, complete b--you know, complete
(Graphic on screen)
For More Information Harvard University Press 79 Garden Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
Prof. SAID: I never said I was a refugee. I did say that I couldn't
go back, which was true. I mean, any Jew born in--in--anywhere can
become an Israeli and go and live there. I can't. I--I was born
there, and I can't return. So he took that and he said, `Well, the
house was registered in'--well, it was in my family's name,
not--certainly not in my name. And he proved that I was in Egypt,
which was obviously true. I was in Egypt and my family did have a
house there. But we also had a house in Lebanon. And he interviewed
lots of people, many of whom he misquoted, who then wrote me and wrote
him. He tried to get the book published--I mean, his--his essay
published at the same time that my book was about to appear, which he
didn't--he didn't cite.
And he was unsuccessful with, for example, The New Republic, which
wanted to do a fact check based on my book, and he said he didn't want
to do that. So he finally published it in commentary, and it was just
done to dis--try to discredit me. But in the end, he was just sort of
laughed off, I think.
LAMB: Born in '35; left Israel--or Palestine--in what year?
Prof. SAID: Well, the last time I was there was in the--December of
LAMB: And you would have been at that time about 12.
Prof. SAID: Twelve.
LAMB: Do you remember it?
Prof. SAID: Oh, very well, of course, yeah. I remember--I mean,
I--I went back for the first time in 45 years in 1992, and I went--you
know, found the house I was born in, my family's house, which is now
the headquarters of the International Christian Embassy, believe it or
not, a fundamentalist Christian, pro--pro-Israeli right-wing group.
And it's become an office. It's in a lovely part of Jerusalem,
perhaps the nicest part of Jerusalem. And I--it's interesting that
when I went in '92, I got from my cousin, who was the last member of
my family to leave the house--he's 82 and lives in--in Toronto. He
gave me a copy of the deed. And I had it with me. And it was a very
emotional visit for me because it was--you know, I--I--I mean, I spent
a good part of my childhood there, you know.
LAMB: So what were the circumstances in '47 leading toward the
creation of Israel?
Prof. SAID: Well, it was a disorganized Palestinian population. You
know, th--by far, the largest n--number of people in the
country--there had been since the end of World War I, when the Balfour
Declaration promised Palestine as a home for the Jews. You know,
Britain was the great imperial power of the day. And during that
period, from--the--the mandatory period when the British were in
charge of Palestine, which was when I was born and grew up, they
in--they allowed Jewish immigration into Palestine. It never in--it
never amounted to more than about 25 percent or 30 percent until the
war broke out in the--in--in the--late-'47.
LAMB: How many people were living there then?
Prof. SAID: Well, there were about a million Palestinians, of whom
later 870,000 were driven out and about 120,000 remained, and about a
million Jews, less even than a million Jews. But there were all the
result of immigration. There was a small Jewish community there,
much, much smaller than the Palestinians and much smaller than the
numbers of people who came in during the period, you know, in the '30s
and especially after World War II, after the Holocaust. It--it became
a kind of refuge.
Th--that aspect of it is quite tragic, you know. But nevertheless, it
was the land o--of another people. And, you know, one of the great
slogans of the Zionist was that--a land without people for a people
without land. I mean, they just simply had overlooked the presence of
these, as we--they used to call us, natives who were there. And
in--and the Palestinian community was not well-organized by any means,
it wasn't well-armed. It was--it had just lived through a long
three-and-a-half-year revolt against--Intifadah against the British in
the thir--you know, '36 to '39, so it was depleted. Their--the
leaders had been deported or killed.
The British had, you know, cordoned off--dead--what the Israelis are
doing now, the same thing, against the Palestinian uprising for
Palestinian independence and to try to stop these waves of
immi--immigrants from coming in. And the result of that was a
community that was, you know, very depleted, leaderless, unorganized,
facing a community that had come out of World War II, been trained by
the British. I mean, Moshe Dayan, for example, had served in the
British army and was trained, as was a whole Jewish battalion, by the
British army. We had no such training and no background.
Well-armed, well-organized, and they had a plan. And the plan was to
dislodge as many Palestinians--it was a simple--the--the--the phrase
is more land and less Arabs. And Ben-Gurion was part of it. Every
major leader of the Zionist movement envisaged the emptying out of
Palestine of its native inhabitants and bringing in Jews to replace
them. And that's what happened in 1948, exactly. Palestinians were
defeated militarily. There was a half-hearted attempt by a group of
Arab armies to come in to the aid of the Palestinians. But they
amounted to less than a third of the Jewish force that was there.
Arab states in various conditions of decline, some of them
colluding--Jordan--colluding with the British so that King Abdullah of
Jordan would get the West Bank, which is, in fact, what happened, and
not enter the war against the Haganah.
And the result was this enormous wave of refugees, you know, about
900,000--870,000, who are--now number 4 1/2 million. And m--my entire
family--we left--my parents and I left at the end of 1947. We went to
Egypt; we had a home there. But the rest of my family, on both sides,
my extended family, the entire lot of them were made refugees, and so
that by the spring of '48, there wasn't a single member of the--of my
family left in Palestine.
LAMB: Today, the total number of Palestinians worldwide?
Prof. SAID: I'd say 7 1/2 million; 4 1/2 million refugees,
two--little less than 3 million West Bank and Gaza and about a million
in--inside Israel as people who were left behind, who are now Israeli
LAMB: What's it mean to be a Palestinian? And is it a--is there a
religion involved in this?
Prof. SAID: No, because Palestinians--I happen to come from a
Christian background. My family is, of all things, Episcopalian. I
was baptized in the mission church there. But it's a--a--a
preponderantly Muslim group. And I think it--all Palestinians suffer
from the pangs of dispossession because, don't forget, Israel has
become a great success story, except for the Palestinians. In other
words, it's celebrated in the Western press, it's considered a
democracy, it's a liberal European country in--in its--in--in--a lot
of it, but not all. I mean, it has all kinds of things that are never
looked at. And it gets the largest amount of aid of any country in
the history of foreign aid. It gets tw--you know, off--officially $3
billion but sometimes bordering on $4 billion and $5 billion a year
from the United States, the US taxpayer.
And the problem for Palestinians is that our history is not
acknowledged, you see. In the Peans--in the--in the endless stories
about Israel--not anymore, but there was a time when, in the '50s and
the '60s and the '70s, Israel, was celebrated as a--as a bastion of
democracy, the outpost of this, that and the other thing. We were
forgotten, and we had to watch as this country that had destroyed us
basically got all the praise and we got nothing.
So our main battle has been, A, to survive, obviously; B, to re-create
our national identity as a people, as opposed to a collection of
refugees or miscellaneous Arabs, as we used to be referred to; and
third, to have self-determination, which means some form of
sovereignty in the country from which we were expelled and which every
protocol in the world, including the UN Charter, the Bill--the
Declaration of Human Rights, everything, allows us to return to. I
mean, the Kosovo war was fought to let the Albanians return, and every
refugee in the world potentially has the right to return, except us.
And this invidious fate is what we--what we feel as Palestinians.
LAMB: What is your reaction when you hear American journalists or
people say, `Well, we are for Israel because they're a democracy, and
nobody else in the Middle East, Palestinians included, are interested
Prof. SAID: Mm. Well, we'd say that's simply untrue because Israel
is a democracy for Jews. For non-Jews, a million--the 20 percent of
people who are not Jews inside Israel are treated as--well, I mean,
they're treated as blacks used to be treated in this country.
LAMB: Can they vote?
Prof. SAID: They can vote. But they're municipally--until 1966, for
example, they were ruled by military edict, and st--until now, no
non-Jew in Israel, no Palestinian, can own or lease or rent land
because 92 percent of the land in Israel is owned in trust for the
Jewish people. I mean, that's a racist land-holding law. If it was
applied in this country, saying, `Only whites can own--or the land of
the United States is for whites only,' nobody would accept that. But
in Israel, that's the way it is, in a country which is not totally
Jewish, that's not democratic. If you don't have to be Jew--and no
non-Jew can return. Any Jew anywhere has the right to return.
Israel is a country without a constitution, it's a country without a
bill of rights. And most important from the point of view of
international politics, it's the only country in the world that has no
declared borders. So when you talk about Israel, what are you talking
about? You're talking about a country which has yet to declare what
its international borders. Do they include the West Bank in Gaza?
Sharon seems to think that they do, for example. So, you know, it's a
very--it's a--it's a much more complex question than American
journalists saying, `Israel is the only democracy'--it's simply not
LAMB: Why do so many Americans support Israel then?
Prof. SAID: Because they don't know anything about the story of the
Palestinians. And Palestinians, I should say, by the way, including
myself, have been in the forefront of--of criticism of Arab
anti-democracy, you know, the fact that so many of the Arab countries
are ruled tyrannically, that they're the abrogation of human rights.
But the irony--I mean, we come back to irony again--is that these
countries, like Saudi Arabia, like Egypt, like Jordan, are supported
by the United States. I mean, we--those of us who come from the Arab
world--I--I'm an American. I'm an Arab American. And it's a source
of great pride for me to be an American, but also great shame
and--and--and sorrow that the United States is not supporting the many
struggles within the Arab world to end censorship, to end illegal
imprisonment, to end torture, to end the absence of freedom of opinion
and so on and so forth. Why? Because the US supports these
governments, because they're seen as strategic ally and--and because,
of course, the United States wants oil. It's a fantastically oil-rich
area of the world.
LAMB: Why is it if, in almost every case, if we put a Jew in this
room with you, there would be a real never seeing of--of...
Prof. SAID: No, that's not true. Absolutely not true.
LAMB: I don't mean they--I don't mean to imply that you can't find
Jews that would agree with you, but they're--you can get an easy
argument going and a--and an angry argument going about--what is
that--what's at the center of all this stuff?
Prof. SAID: Well, it's a very emotional issue, but I--but I--I do
want to say something that's very important is that over the years, my
own--and I--I mean, I'm speaking for myself, but I'm--for--for others
as well that in my struggle for Palestinian rights, there have been
many Jews, Israeli and non-Israeli, who have played an extremely
honorable role as critics of Israel, upholders of universal standards
of human rights. I--it's very easy to support human rights in South
African during apar--you know, against apartheid, but then to come and
say, you know, `What about the same laws'--apartheid laws is what they
are in Israel--that say that Palestinians can't travel, they can't
reside, they can't work. All these things are applied to
Palestinians. And they say, `Well, no, no, no. We can't. We're
Jewish.' Well, there are many Jews who don't agree with that double
standards in America, in Israel, in Europe, elsewhere. So I don't
think that's true.
But the ones who--who would want to e--disagree with me and--and fight
me do so for two reasons. One is emotion. They feel that in some
way, I oppose a Jewish state. I don't at all oppose the presence of
Jews and self-determination for Jews, just as long as it doesn't take
place at the expense of others. And the second reason is that they're
ignorant. I mean, they do not know the facts. Many--many Israelis
are only now 50 years, 52 years after the establishment of the state,
beginning to discover the--the events that took place and how Israel
was born. It--it was by no means a clean birth. It was a--a very
ugly situation for the majority of people in the area who became
LAMB: Give us an example of what you're talking about.
Prof. SAID: Well, about the refugees. A lot of the research, recent
research, on what happened in 1948, which shatters the myth of Israel
fighting a war of liberation and the refugees fled because they were
told to, is being done by Israeli historians who have looked in the
archives which have been recently de--declassified of the army, of the
Haganah, which show that there were orders to disperse Pal--Rabin, for
example, who's often celebrated in this country as a great warrior for
peace. He was personally responsible for the expulsion of 60,000
people in the towns of Rid--Lod and Romle in the spring of 1948. So,
you know--and Diane himself said in the early '70s, he said `Every
village, every country, every town in this country used to be an Arab
town and we destroyed them.' So, you know, these facts, as they
gradually become known and accepted--it's not just a matter of known.
I mean, you can, `No, no, no,' deny it, but I think there's now a--a
growing consensus that the Palestinians didn't appear from nowhere,
nor are they fanatics bent on the destruction of Israel for no other
reasons than they--they hate Jews. That's complete nonsense.
LAMB: Do you...
Prof. SAID: I think that's changing.
LAMB: Do you think it really can ever been solved?
Prof. SAID: Yeah, I do, actually. I don't think it can be solved
militarily. I mean, that's what's so tragic about what's taking place
in--in the occupied territories and with the failure of the peace
process, that--you know, people think that if you bomb Palestinians,
they're going to, in the end, give up. They're not. I think we--we
need a--a climate and culture of co-existence, and that's going to
take time. But I think it can be solved. When it--I mean, human
beings are very stubborn and I think what you need is a slow, seeping
in the--in the consciousness that the other people are not going to go
away, that Palestinians will have to recognize that Israelis are not
going to go away and likewise Israelis, who have all the power--it's
very asymmetrical--will have to realize that Palestinians are not only
not going to go away, but they should be treated and must be treated
LAMB: What role does American taxpayer dollars play in this? And
we're--$3 billion a year to Israel; $2 billion to Egypt.
Prof. SAID: Egypt.
LAMB: Close to a billion to Jordan and...
Prof. SAID: Yes.
LAMB: ...and it--it...
Prof. SAID: Crucial. Crucial.
LAMB: And what--should--should Americans pay this kind of money?
Prof. SAID: Absolutely not. I think it's--first of all, most of the
money is going for military purposes. I mean, Israel gets a huge
amount of military aid. So does Egypt. And I think the bane--and
Jordan. The bane of the Middle East has been the militarization
of--of society, so that Egypt i--is a military society, Israel is a
military society. In Egypt, for example, the army is the largest
employer in the country. So we're talking about something that goes
beyond genuine need. They're not attacking each other. So I think
American tax dollars should, number one, stop going for military
purposes. And since most of the money goes to Israel for--and Israel
is the only one that uses its army in this way, to attack civilians in
Lebanon--and they had a military occupation of Lebanon for 22 years
against every law in the books in this country, according to foreign
policy, and there's been an occupation of the West Bank and Gaza for
33 years, I--you know, that should stop.
Second, I believe that the American taxpayer should become aware of
what the issues are and support peace--processes for peaceful change
which are the most extraordinarily needed now. You need the
enfranchisement of women, you need the--the participation of citizens
in what are basically oligarchies and--and autocracies of one sort or
another. And there is a growing sense of a human rights movement in
the Arab world, which is profoundly shocking now--the situation.
LAMB: What's your reaction when people call you the professor of
terror? Who did--who started that?
Prof. SAID: That commentary again. A--a--a Jewish magazine in this
country, a monthly, some guy wrote an article, called me the professor
of terror. Sort of libelous. It passed, I--I still receive...
LAMB: Does this come out of your--were you on the National Council...
Prof. SAID: I--I was a member of the Palestinian National Council.
LAMB: For how long?
Prof. SAID: I was in it from 1977 to 1991, 14 years.
LAMB: And it--as a member, what did you do?
Prof. SAID: The--I went to three meetings, basically. That's what I
LAMB: Where--where were they held?
Prof. SAID: One meeting was in Cairo, one in Amman, Jordan, and the
third one in Algers, 1988.
LAMB: Were you close to Arafat?
Prof. SAID: I--I knew him very well, actually, till--I would say
till the period of Gulf War, around '92.
LAMB: Why is he always--maintain--how has he always maintained his
Prof. SAID: Well, he's a br--he's probably the most brilliant
politician of survival, I think, that the mo--modern period has seen.
He's a--in his--in his own way, extremely effective with his people.
He can be very engaging. But I think he has become, unfortunately,
really too--I mean, he's--has a tendency to identify Palestine with
himself. I mean, he thinks he is Palestine and Palestine is he. And,
of course, he does have the control of the budget, which is very
LAMB: Where's he get his money?
Prof. SAID: Well, it's--I don't really know. I mean, he's
had--gotten it from the Gulf states during the period until '82. He
gets it from various international agencies, the World Bank, and so on
and so forth. And the--the European Union mainly. And he keeps very
tight control of it.
LAMB: You say in one of your interviews, `I do not trust religious
Prof. SAID: No, I don't.
Prof. SAID: Well, I think--you know, once you start involving the
af--in the affairs of the world, which is made by men and women--I
mean, the world is a historically constructed thing, I believe--once
you start involving God in them and bringing in to these affairs
revelations and edicts from on high, then you leave the world of--of
negotiation and politics and you enter a world of absolutes and I--I
LAMB: You say--on another topic, you say, `I generally talk--try to
talk about the question of education, about the development of a
critical consciousness, about education as a form of resistance
against the invasion of the mind by wall-to-wall television,
prepackaged news and the rest. There, I feel I am continuing it.'
Wha--what are you worried about on the wall-to-wall television,
prepackaged news and the rest? What impact does that have on the
Prof. SAID: Well, I think very, very much. I mean, if you--if you
think that most Americans get their news from television and
television devotes very little time to coverage of the--of the world
outside the United States, and you--and you get really basically very
simple and homogenized images. For example, if you say Islam or
Palestine or Arab, you immediately think of terrorism. And it's that
kind of simple, inadequate historical coverage that--that worries me.
But it's not only television. I think that's true in--even inside the
academy, in--in the university people just say `Oh, yeah. Swift, he
was an Irish writer and he was very angry.' I mean, that's inadequate
to describe a writer like Swift. So I think the role of the teacher
and the critic is always to expand, to question dogmas and simple
ascertains and to show people alternative routes by which they can
achieve greater understanding and critical understanding.
LAMB: In the book of your essays--first of all, where's this cover
Prof. SAID: Oh, this is a--a--well, it came from a clever editor
at--at--at the Harvard Press, that published the book. But it's a
por--it's a portrait of Dante, a 19th century portrait of Dante in
exile, who--he was a famous exile in the 14th century, a great poet of
the "Divine Comedy." And he was exiled from Florence. And he--he's
one of the earlier symbols of the wandering humanist.
LAMB: There are 46 essays in here. The one that I thought was the
most unusual or just--it didn't fit as much as some of the rest, but I
want to ask you about it...
Prof. SAID: Sure.
LAMB: ...was number 11, Gray Eminence, Walter Lippmann.
Prof. SAID: Yes. Yes. Well, this...
LAMB: Why did you--why did you write about Walter Lippmann?
Prof. SAID: Oh, I--you know, for a moment, I thought you were going
to ask me about the belly dancer I wrote about in there, too, but
Walter Lippmann was--was a very important figure to me when I was
growing up, actually, in thi--when I--I came here when I was 15. And
he was the accepted kind of pundit.
LAMB: That would have been 1950?
Prof. SAID: '51, I came.
Prof. SAID: Yeah, yeah.
LAMB: Moved to New York?
Prof. SAID: No, no. I came first to boarding school in--in New
England. I was there for two years, and then I was an undergraduate
at Princeton and then went to Harvard for five years to do my PhD. So
I was in--ni--11 years.
LAMB: At--at some point, you don't want to tell us what that school
in New England was because you were somewhat critical of it. Well,
you want to tell us today?
Prof. SAID: Sure. I mean, I talked about it in my memoir. It's
called Mt. Hermon. I--it's in Massachusetts. I--I--I found it very
stifling in a way for me. It was a religious school. And--and don't
forget, I come from a rather warm climate and a different system of
education. I just found New England piety a little hard to take, plus
the snow, which I'd never seen before.
But anyway, about Lippmann, Lippmann is--is, I think, tremendously
interesting to me because he is exactly the opposite of what I am. I
mean, he was a man of such respectability and authority that, you
know, his words were--were taken for, you know, fact, partly because
of his connections but above all, because of his closeness to power in
this country. And I've always been very far away from it. So I
thought it was an interesting study. It's a--it's a biography of
Lippmann that--that stimulated this essay--by Ronald Steel that got me
LAMB: Did you ever know Walter Lippmann?
Prof. SAID: Never, no. No, he was just a figure.
LAMB: Did you ever--did you read him?
Prof. SAID: I did. I did. I read him. I read several of his
books. In fact, I first heard of him when I was in boarding school
when I--when I--when I was si--well, he--his name was suggested to me
as somebody one should profitably read as an authority on the public
sphere, which has always interested me.
LAMB: You say, `Lippmann's achievements and his imminence derive less
from opportunism than from his principle belief in the necessity of
balance and realism, which, of course, are the very code words of
American establishment beliefs.'
Prof. SAID: Right.
LAMB: Explain that.
Prof. SAID: Never to be too controversial, never upset people with
your ideas, although there was an--an exception in his career. Toward
the end of his career, he opposed the Vietnam War, but well after it
started. And I think for the wrong reasons.
LAMB: You said he was 75 when he...
Prof. SAID: Yeah, he was 75. Third, make sure you talk in the
accepted lingo of the day, you know, the lingo of Franco, want people
want to hear. In other words, clichés, uncontroversial, above all,
and with a certain amount of grave authority. And--and that--I think
he was a master of that.
LAMB: You say, `Before World War I, he was a radical socialist.'
Prof. SAID: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: `He dropped that for muck-raking journalism.'
Prof. SAID: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: `Then he shifted to liberalism, to pragmatism, whose
philosophical elements he had picked up while studying under William
Prof. SAID: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: `And then finally, to national prominence as the pundit who
wrote regularly for The New Republic, the New York World, the New York
Herald Tribune and The Washington Post and--and Newsweek. Now...
Prof. SAID: Admirable career. He left socialism far behind. He--he
eschewed anything to do with revolution or radical social change. And
he became the pundit. He became the figure of the pundit who spins
out these columns of, I think, kind of reassuring wisdom that they
effective confirm America's eminence in the world, the fact that
people are thinking about its future with a certain kind of paternal
or patriarchal, I should say, benign concern. And above all, it
didn't--it doesn't trouble the conscious. I mean, it's really stuff
that con--keeps you going as you are. It doesn't say, `Stop. What we
are doing is immoral. It's wrong. We should be doing X, Y and Z.'
LAMB: Who do you admire in American journalism, columnists and people
like Walter Lippmann today? Anybody?
Prof. SAID: Not too many. I wouldn't say--not the ones who write,
you know, write regularly for the big journals that re--in a sense,
require a--a certain, you know, first of all, the format. And my--my
favorites and I people I read with--with interest are--you know,
really include people like Christopher Hitchens, like Alexander
Cockburn, from time to time, Gary Wills, you know, people who are
al--sort of alternative figures who write from a different point of
view, who are--who are there. William Greider in The Natio--in The
LAMB: Are your students inquisitive about this kind of stuff?
Prof. SAID: Less and less, I would say. You know, they--I think
they're more interested in advancing in their professional careers
than they used to be, say, in the '60s and the '70s.
LAMB: Do they know anything about you when they get to the class?
Prof. SAID: I think they do now, yeah. Unfortunately.
That's--that--and probably come to the class wa--partially because of
LAMB: Wha--how many classes do you teach a year?
Prof. SAID: Well, when I can, I--I teach two. But I've--you know,
the problem with my teaching in the last, I would say, five years has
been that it's intermittent because it's constantly interrupted by
long periods of treatment and sickness. So it's hard--I--I don't like
to teach a class and then drop it. So unless I can see a period
without severe treatment, I try not to teach.
LAMB: Are you teaching now?
Prof. SAID: No, I'm not teaching right now, no. Because I had a bad
four-month period recently. But I taught in--in the--in--I taught
last year, but not this year.
LAMB: Just because you mentioned it again, do you recommend--you
know, a lot of people watching this probably have the same thing
you've got. What--what do you recommend? And for those who don't
have anything wrong with them, how do you deal with it? How do you
deal with it in your--besides pushing it off a little bit?
Prof. SAID: Well, first of all, I think it's very important to
confront it. I--you know, most of us go through various phases of
denial. And I think it's terribly important to face up to what you
have and cut it to size. That's number one. I think number two,
get--the most important thing in the long run is to get a doctor you
like because it's a--you know, it's a long-term thing. It's not just
a one-visit business. You have to keep seeing the doctor over and
over again. So I think a doctor you trust and like is--is terribly
important. And third, trust in your doctor. I mean, it's the same as
the second really.
LAMB: What--what kind of a family do you have?
Prof. SAID: I have a--I have a son who is 29 and is a lawyer. And I
have a daughter who's 27 and is an actress.
LAMB: Where are they?
Prof. SAID: They're both in New York.
LAMB: And are you married?
Prof. SAID: I am married, yeah.
LAMB: What's your wife like?
Prof. SAID: My wife is a Lebanese woman who is the still point of
the turning world. She's a very calm, extremely self-possessed and
amazing woman of great strength. She's a banker. But she is the sort
of anchor of our--our--of our lives.
LAMB: Where'd you meet her?
Prof. SAID: I met her in Lebanon in the late '60s and we've been
married since 1970 for--What was it?--31 years, yeah.
LAMB: If she's Lebanese and you are Arab and you're...
Prof. SAID: Palestinian.
LAMB: ...there at Columbia--Palestinian--there are a lot of Jews
around that school.
Prof. SAID: Yeah. Yes.
LAMB: What's--how do they deal with you on a day-to-day basis?
Prof. SAID: Pretty normally. I mean, I--I--it's quite strange. I
mean, Columbia has a reputation for being a--a--a Jewish university.
I mean, a lot of the students are Jewish and many of my friends and
colleagues in the faculty are also Jewish. And, you know, that never
really seems to come up, you know, I--they know who I am certainly.
There's no--I've never been secretive about it. And most people talk
about it openly. Our closest friends tend to be from other parts of
the world in the United States, but lots of American friends, many of
them Jewish, as it turns out. So it's not--it's not a problem in
everyday life really at all.
LAMB: Another one of your essays, number 42, On Defiance and Taking
Prof. SAID: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: You write, `In other universities in other parts of the world,
of course, the academy is part of the political system and academic
appointments are necessarily very often the case outright political
appointments.' This isn't the way it is in the United States.
Prof. SAID: Not really, no. I mean, I--I think the American
university, which is--I mean, God knows it deserves a lot of criticism
for many of the things that are wrong with it, but all you have to do
is to go to places where the university's part of the--where
the--where the university is a state institution to realize that in
many ways, the American university is a utopia. I mean, we have the
best life possible as members of a university. There's basically
freedom of expression and research, there's a freedom of exchange.
And it's basically a meritocracy. You know, it doesn't matter who
your parents are or what--how much money you have, that you will
achieve what you can achieve on the basis of your--of your--of your
work. And of--on the merit of your work. And I--it's an amazingly, I
think, effective institution.
LAMB: The most recent publicity you got was for throwing a rock.
Prof. SAID: Right.
LAMB: What--what's the story there?
Prof. SAID: Well, the...
LAMB: The New York Times even retracted a--what they wrote.
Prof. SAID: It's a silly story, but basically, in the summer of
2000, my--my wife, as you know, is Lebanese and my two kids and I were
in Lebanon for a family occasion. And we went to South Lebanon, from
which--this is July, early July of 2000. The Israelis had just been
thrown out of the south where they had been an occupation--military
occupation for 22 years. And, you know, it's--it became a tourist
attraction to go to the south and visit, the areas where the Israelis
had been, the prisons that they had established and villages they had
destroyed and so on. And the last stop is to go to the border where
there's a barbed wire, you know, encampment where there used to be an
Israeli interrogation center where lots of people were tortured and
beaten up and so on and is now evacuated. And on the other side of
the frontier, about 300, 400 yards away, is a watch tower, which is
completely sealed off. You can't see if you--there was nobody in it
when we were there.
Anyway, so everybody who's there picks up stones and little pebbles
and just heaves them across the border. And I was drawn to this
because my son did it and I thought, `Well'--you know, kind of
Oedipal--`Well, can I throw it as far as he can?' which obviously I
couldn't. There was some photographer there, took the picture and
sold it to the press in--in Beirut. And the picture then went round
the world and became a kind of silly cause célèbre. But I think blown
out of proportion in order to shield people from what, in fact, had
happened in South Lebanon, which was a horrible story of occupation
and torture and--and destruction on the part of the Israelis.
LAMB: What--what is your guess--and we don't have a very long time
here--what is your guess how this will all be solved someday?
Prof. SAID: Well, it's difficult to guess. I--I think this is a
very, very dark period; I think probably the darkest in a whole series
of declining moments. But I think in the end, a formula--in--in other
words, when more people on the Israeli side--because they're the ones
with the power--I mean, their, you know, nuclear arsenal, they have a
fantastic air--air force, army, etc., navy--when they realize that
they cannot bring the Palestinians to their knees, I think
then--and--and--and what's interesting is that many young
Israelis--this hasn't been widely reported--are refusing reservists
and refusing service on the West Bank in Gaza to try to put down the
Palestinians. When there's a meeting of minds of like-minded people
who want co-existence on both sides, I think there's a--there's a hope
for--for the future. But now it doesn't look very good at all.
LAMB: This is the cover of the book. Edward W. Said, "Reflections
on Exile," some 46 essays. We thank you very much for joining us.
Prof. SAID: Thank you for having me.
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